By Lynn Stonesifer, Collection Management Department
"I thought book publishers just gave you their books!"
If only it were that simple. How do we really fill the shelves at the Library?
We have a large department behind the scenes called the "Collection Management Department"—"Collection" meaning collections of books, magazines, DVDs, audiobooks, and anything else that the Library offers for reference or check-out. Staff manages all the tasks necessary to select, order, catalog, process, and mend all the materials that the Library purchases. The Library adds over 100,000 items each year.
It all starts with the Materials Selectors: a staff of six librarians studies reviews from libraries, publishers, and popular media, including Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, The New York Times Book Review, and School Library Journal. The Selectors follow the guidelines set forth in How Baltimore Chooses: Selection Policies of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, 8th ed., 2007.
In addition to selection evaluation criteria outlined in HBC, the Selectors also request feedback from librarians who work with the public in the branches and in the Central Library. They pass along customer requests and help the Selectors to purchase materials to build collections in specific subject areas, such as business, health, cooking, how-to, homework support, sport, and literature.
The two questions most often asked of Collection Management Staff are:
- Can the Library add my self-published book?
It depends... any book must meet the selection criteria in the Library’s selection policies. We do ask that the authors become familiar with How Baltimore Chooses and to supply any reviews or recommendations to support their requests.
- Why does it take so long get a new book on to the shelf?
We order not one but ten to fifty copies of any book title because we are ordering for 20+ library locations across the city. We purchase materials from the same book wholesalers that book stores use.
So, selection is just the first step in purchasing and acquisitions is the second step. A staff of six in the Acquisitions Unit manage the physical ordering and receiving process. They send the orders electronically to the vendors online. Then they add all the order information (purchase order, number of copies, distribution, program notes, etc.) to the Library’s automated Acquisitions system. The Library’s catalog is an automated system composed of four modules: Acquisitions, Cataloging, Serials, and Circulation. All of these modules work together in an Integrated Library System.
The great thing about this system is that as soon as a book is ordered, it appears in the online public catalog and you can place a reserve on a copy before the Library has received it. That way, you know that you will get a copy and don’t have to remember to keep checking the catalog to see if we bought it.
When Acquisitions receives the books (or DVDs or audiobooks), they must be unpacked and matched with purchase orders, then property stamped, barcoded, and reinforced or covered if necessary. Invoices are received and matched with packing lists, approved, and sent to the Library’s Business Office for payment. The new books are then organized on book trucks to be sent to the Cataloging Unit.
Cataloging is the third step. The Cataloging Unit is composed of eight professional and paraprofessional catalogers. The professionals are librarians with Master’s degrees in Library Science and they have specialized experience in cataloging materials. Catalogers write the description of the book or other materials so that they can be organized in the catalog for easy access. The paraprofessionals catalog the "routine" or popular materials, while the professionals tackle the more complicated items, such as government documents, foreign language materials, or local history.
The catalogers add the copies to the online catalog so items can be easily located or reserved.
The Collection Management Department also includes a Serials Unit of two staff members who manage a periodical collection of over 3,000 subscriptions, and a Documents Unit of four staff members who collect both federal and state documents. They coordinate The Maryland State Publications Depository and Distributions Program and have created an online repository of electronic state documents for easy access.
It’s amazing what you can find the Pratt’s Collections, from the newest best-seller to small town church records to government reports to online databases to eBooks. Check it out!